Social Security Overpayments Creates Serious Hardships, Volunteering is Good for You, Updates from Local Civil Legal Aid Orgs, Plus more

‘I was Overpaid by Social Security’

overpaid-social-security-620xaRebecca Rivetto had received disability payments for four years for her autistic son. Now the Social Security Administration is asking for it all back.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)- photo courtesy Rebecca Revetto

Americans dealing with injuries, mental illnesses and other impairments are being notified out of the blue that they’ve been overpaid by the Social Security Administration and now owe thousands of dollars.

One 33-year-old veteran began receiving Social Security disability payments after his left foot was amputated following an explosion in Iraq in 2007. After going through rehab for his prosthetic leg, he began working full-time for a defense contractor in 2009. As soon as he started collecting a paycheck, the veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, reported his roughly $100,000 annual salary to the Social Security Administration.

When recipients of disability benefits reenter the workforce, they have a nine-month trial period in which they continue to receive benefits. Once the trial period ends and their earnings exceed a certain level — currently $1,040 a month — the payments are supposed to stop. And that’s exactly what happened in his case.

But then, last July, he noticed a $75,000 deposit in his checking account. Three days later, a letter arrived from the Social Security Administration saying it had reinstated his benefits because he had not been “gainfully employed” during the past three years. Continue reading here.

Thanks to the folks at Seattle Community Law Center for sharing this article!

A New Frontline/ProPublica Report Sheds Lights on Assisted Living and Elder Law Issues

Elderly, At Risk and Haphazardly Protected _ Life and Death in Assisted LiviDid you know that in Minnesota and 13 other states, the administrators of assisted living facilities don’t need to have high school diplomas? Or that in California, assisted living facilities housing as many as 200 seniors need no more than two workers on the overnight shift? The workers are not required to have any medical training, and one is allowed to be asleep.

A special report from ProPublica and FRONTLINE finds that even though increasing numbers of assisted living residents are seriously ill and require complex care, regulations for assisted living lag far behind the reality in many states — and assisted living operators face few consequences for even the most serious lapses.

Why?  Our special report is here. It’s the latest installment in our investigation of assisted living in America — and it’s something you won’t want to miss.

Report Concludes that Volunteering is Good for Your Health

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A national survey of 3,351 adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of UnitedHealth Group demonstrates that volunteering is good for your health. 

It’s no secret within the nonprofit sector that volunteers are often the difference between “make” and “break,” the special sauce that keeps an organization moving forward, delivering against its mission, serving its constituents. From hands-on volunteers to skills-based volunteers to the volunteer leaders who serve on boards, it’s almost impossible to calculate the value that those who give back add to the sector. So it’s nice to know that those who volunteer benefit from the experience as well.

A national survey of 3,351 adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of UnitedHealth Group demonstrates that volunteering is good for your health. Here are some of the takeaways from this research:

  • Volunteers say they feel better—physically, mentally and emotionally—than non-volunteers
  • Volunteering helps people manage and lower stress levels
  • Volunteers feel a deeper connection to communities and others
  • Volunteers are more informed healthcare consumers and are more engaged and involved in taking care of their own health

If you work with volunteers—or if you are one yourself—those first three points are probably not very surprising. The fourth is perhaps a bit unexpected, but the report includes some interesting data around this topic, including people who report that volunteering helps them cope with a chronic illness and/or helps them take their minds off their own problems. Survey respondents who volunteer scored better than those that don’t on nine well-established measures of emotional well-being. Read more here.

Columbia Legal Services and Pro Bono Partners File Suit Against Yakima Hospital Over Charity Care

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Together with Sirianni Youtz Spoonemore Hamburger, Columbia Legal Services has filed a lawsuit seeking access to healthcare for low-income Yakima area residents.

By Molly Rosbach, Yakima Herald-Republic.

In violation of state laws, Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and Toppenish Community Hospital have been deterring patients from seeking charity care, shifting the burden onto other area hospitals, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the hospitals’ parent corporation.

The lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court alleges a “severe imbalance” when it comes to charity care in Yakima County, using state figures that show Regional’s total charity care cases numbering 385 for 2011 compared to 28,503 for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

Toppenish Community and Regional are owned by Health Management Associates (HMA) of Naples, Fla., which is the sole named defendant.

Charity care is for patients who cannot pay all or part of their hospital bill, and is typically a tax write-off for the hospital. Read the full story here.

News from Eastside Legal Assistance Program

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By Stan Kehl, Executive Director

As the King County Budget process unfolds, I’ve been looking at the need for legal services for DV survivors. I’ve always known that we only scratch the surface in meeting this need, but the numbers I have recently received drove the point home. Domestic Abuse Women’s Network would refer 75 to 100 more survivors a month who would benefit from assistance on their family law cases. The King County Protection Order Advocates would refer an additional 100 to 120 survivors a month to ELAP, if we had the capacity to serve them. Lifewire, formerly Eastside Domestic Violence Program, would refer 15 more clients with critical health and safety needs to our ELAP DV Staff Attorneys each month, if we had the capacity. 

We are working on an innovative proposal to address this critical need by substantially expanding ELAP’s capacity to serve DV survivors by up to 120 to 130 DV survivors a year. We are designing a program to use what we see as unused resources, i.e. new attorneys who practice in the area of family law but have not fully established their practice yet, and non-practicing attorneys who would like to volunteer on a regular basis to keep their skill sharp. 

We will recruit new attorneys to the program and provide them with full support, including computers, phones, paralegal assistance, mentoring and training for one year while they build their solo practice. In return they will provide ELAP’s DV clients with 20 hours of legal services a week for one year. This will involve between five and eight of these attorneys each year. We will also recruit three to five experienced non-practicing family law attorneys who are temporarily staying at home, but who would like to give ten hours of their week.

In addition to providing legal services to more of the DV survivors who desperately need legal assistance, we want to train new family law attorneys in an environment which would acquaint them with working with DV survivors. We would also be forging connections with them, which we believe will lead to ongoing pro bono work on behalf of DV survivors.

If you would like to be a part of this effort, or have suggestions and ideas for this program, please contact me at stan@elap.org.

Equal Justice Coalition Funding Update

logoDuring the months of September and October, six legal aid Alliance organizations and the Equal Justice Coalition testified at all four scheduled public hearings on King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget. The public hearings were held in Kent, North Bend, Bellevue, and Seattle.

Legal aid organizations that provided testimony, and that are supported through Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed budget are Seattle Community Law Center, Unemployment Law Project, TeamChild, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Eastside Legal Assistance Program, and the Family Assistance Program at Solid Ground.

While we are thankful to be included in the Executive’s proposed budget, we’ve continued to meet with Councilmembers to highlight the importance of investing in our services, which collectively ensures our most vulnerable people are protected.

The County’s investment has enabled legal aid organizations to leverage support through unique partnerships that have resulted in a coordinated multiple entry point system for low-income people to gain access to the legal services they need.

Last year, the County’s investment of half a million dollars to these six legal aid programs allowed them to leverage support from volunteer attorneys, yielding over 25,000 hours of pro bono help – a sizable return on investment of about $4 million to the county.

At a time when we’ve seen a decline in federal support, and state funding has remained stagnant, King County has stepped up its support for legal services.

The King County Council’s Budget Leadership Team is currently in the process of budget deliberations. We expect the Council to announce their final proposal within two weeks.